John J. Pawlikowski, "The Holocaust as Rational Event," The Reconstructionist (April 1974) 7-14

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Pawlikowski disagrees with those who say that the Holocaust was an irrational event: "It was a planned event whose origins lie in philosophies developed by thinkers some consider to be giants of liberal Western thought, and in theological attitudes central to Christianity" (8).

The Holocaust reveals the narrowness of the effort to create the universal man, the "attempt to rob people of their individuality and force them in my patterns of life, to elevate my culture, my ideas, my style of living to a universal plane" (9). It also reveals the need for humility in the face of our new sense of power to shape ourselves and our environment. The Holocaust "is the ultimate achievement of man without God. Hopefully, it will be the last such achievement" (9).

The centuries-long tradition of antisemitism in Christian theology and preaching helped make possible the Holocaust, as is the Christian attitude that truth is more important than love. Christians, and especially Catholics, have been reluctant to learn from the Holocaust. American Catholics have felt removed from the events of the Nazi period, and they continue to be burdened by a residual antisemitism. But "the principal reason for silence about the Holocaust is to be found in a theological attitude that is deeply ingrained in Catholics [which] looks upon the church as a holy and spotless institution incapable of any major moral defects" (11). Liberal Catholics who have overcome this attitude tend to omit the Holocaust from their reflections because they no longer see the Jews as persecuted and they view the Holocaust as past history with little relevance for the present.

Fredrich Heer, in his book God's First Love, traces Christian antisemitism back to a general disregard of man and the world based on Augustine's view of the world as sinful. The resulting sense of fatalism and despair about the world can only be overcome by "a return to the Hebrew Bible's roots of Christ's own piety and to even older roots, to the original faith in which Man felt himself to be both God's creature and his responsible partner" (12). It may help to get rid of the theology of cursed Jews, but "the possibility of a new wave of anti-Semitism or a holocaust of mankind as such still exists so long as men do not take seriously their responsibility for the world and the power their dignity as co-creators has given them" (13). If the church is going to provide guidance in the use of human powers, it will first of all have to recapture its Jewish roots and the Jewish spirit of 'worldliness.'